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Stearns holds a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. While at Cornell, he joined the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. His professional career began in marketing with the Gillette Company. From 1977 to 1985, he held various roles with Parker Brothers, culminating in his appointment as president in 1984. In 1985, he became a vice president at The Franklin Mint, then joined Lenox in 1987 as president of Lenox Collections. In 1995, Stearns was named president and chief executive officer of Lenox Inc., overseeing three divisions, six manufacturing facilities, 4,000 employees, and $500 million in annual sales. He left Lenox when he became president of World Vision in June 1998.
As president of World Vision Inc., Stearns is responsible for U.S. operations, which include fund raising, advocacy, and program development. World Vision is a Christian relief and development organization dedicated to helping children and their communities worldwide reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty. Stearns is passionate about helping children and families affected by the worldwide AIDS crisis and has made this a priority for the organization.
Under Rich’s direction, World Vision has experienced unprecedented growth. Thanks in part to his application of corporate best practices and fostering of a strong leadership team, Christianity Today calls World Vision “an increasingly important player in world humanitarian aid.”
He writes op-eds on global poverty and AIDS for major U.S. newspapers and magazines, and has appeared on CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, and PBS. Examples include Samaritans on the AIDS crisis  and The face of America should meet the face of poverty 
He is also the author of The Hole in Our Gospel: What does God expect of Us? The Answer that Changed my Life and Might Just Change the World . This is a story of how a corporate CEO faced his own struggle to obey God whatever the cost, and his passionate call for Christians to change the world by actively living out their faith. Using his own journey as an example, Stearns explores the hole that exists in our understanding of the Gospel.